Review: Gospel Allegiance

gospel allegiance

Gospel AllegianceMatthew W. Bates. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019.

Summary: Contends that our traditional ideas of salvation by faith reflect an inadequate gospel that fails to call people to allegiance to King Jesus.

A couple years ago, Matthew Bates provoked a conversation about the nature of the gospel and faith with his book Salvation by Allegiance Alone (review). Bates’ contention is that our traditional statements about salvation by faith fails to capture a critically important element of the gospel, that the coming of Jesus was the coming of a king, whose purpose was to call people from the nations to a new allegiance to Christ as king.

This book expands on this argument, designed for a pastoral rather than theological audience. He engages other authors such as John MacArthur and John Piper who have written about these matters, noting both where they are in agreement and where their understanding of gospel, faith, and works may be deficient. He proposes that our typical rendering of gospel presentations like the “Roman road” are inadequate.

In addition to the pastoral focus, Bates proposes that this book focuses more on the gospel, defining it more precisely and thoroughly. He goes further in his discussion of faith, grace and works. He argues that this is not a different gospel but a re-framing of the gospel. Finally, this study primarily focuses on Paul.

A key to understanding Bates’ main idea is this phrase in Romans 16:26 which says, “…so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith.” Bates sees pistis, the word for “faith” as more than simply a mental or emotional disposition but rather “faith-obedience” or allegiance, and also emphasizes the idea that Christ’s purpose was to call the nations (“Gentiles”) to obedient allegiance to him.

Bates shows in this book how this is not salvation by works and yet how works are saving in the idea of allegiance to the King embodied in a life of obedience. He show how these are distinct in the writing of Paul from works of the law. His discussion of grace is perhaps the most challenging part of the book, both in terms of understanding and in terms of the ideas he presents. He argues that grace may be both unmerited and require bodily reciprocation, and by this, argues against “free grace” movements as cheap and false grace.

In his final chapter, he connects allegiance back to the Great Commission and Jesus call to make disciples. He argues:

   Any gospel that makes discipleship optional or additional is a false gospel. Gospel allegiance helps us to understand why faith in Jesus, discipleship, and obedience to his commands to hand in hand. In traditional articulations that place saving faith in opposition to works and the law, it is hard to find a positive place for Jesus’s commands. Not so if saving faith is allegiance to the king.

One of the distinctions that I am not at ease with is the distinction he makes between our being saved and our final salvation. He proposes that forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, redemption, adoption, and glory, are benefits of our final salvation. He speaks of all of these in the present as potential benefits. I would contend that they are already realized in our lives by grace in part, while our full realization of these will be in glory.

The value of Bates’ work is in his idea of allegiance and how it integrates faith, grace, and obedience, often set in conflict with each other. Furthermore, allegiance reminds us of the ultimate claim Jesus has on our lives above any other allegiances, involving our implicit and embodied obedience. It speaks as a challenge to allegiances to present-day Caesar’s and their empires, and all other false gods. It challenges versions of cheap grace that allow people to rationalize persisting in unrepented sin or refusing to advance in one’s discipleship and embodied holiness, claiming they have “believed” and are saved by grace. What most impressed me in this book is that it was clear that Bates’ concerns for gospel allegiance arise from a passion for the glory of Christ and a desire to see people truly converted, and set upon lives of discipleship. He models the kind of concern that every minister of the gospel ought have to be sure we have not run in vain or labored in vain (Philippians 2:16).

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Advent

Advent

Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus ChristFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.

Summary: A collection of sermons and writings organized according to the lectionary calendar of pre-Advent and Advent Sundays and special days, focusing on preparation for return of Christ.

Advent is often thought of as the four Sundays before Christmas, and a time of anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is that, and Fleming Rutledge would propose, far more. Reading Advent, it became more for me as well. This book is a collection of sermons given over many years and various locations, as well as a shorter collection of writings. Aside from the writings the sermons are organized by the Episcopal pre-Advent and Advent calendar, spanning a seven week period.

Our typical mental picture of Advent is one of warm, family-centered times of Advent calendars and activities, and the lighting of Advent wreaths. Rutledge presents us with an older tradition, and one not for the faint of heart, She reminds us of Episcopal practice, in which the church is not decorated until Christmas, in contrast to a society that decorates for Christmas with lights, ornaments, trees, and more before Thanksgiving. All this is occurring during Advent which is a time of darkness rather than light.

Rutledge reminds us that Advent occurs in a season of darkness, and in a world that is sin-darkened. It is a season of waiting for the king, and not simply for his first coming, but his return. We wait, conscious of the evil in the world and each one of us. We wait, learning to long for judgment as a setting right of things . We understand that history is coming to a culmination–a cosmic war. We wait, remembering the ministry of John who prepared the Lord’s way. Rutledge does not shy from things like judgment and hell, and believes that in the facing of biblical teaching about these things, we understand more clearly the salvation of our God in the two comings of Christ, leading us to welcome his coming in our lives.

The sermons model how to weave the events of the day, from 9/11 to an ordination into the text of a message, and to adapt material to retreats, mid-week services as well as Sundays. Most of the sermons are five or six pages in length, ideal for reading over the course of pre-Advent and Advent as a series of meditations on Advent. The sermons are not theological treatises, but rather theological addresses, from the “I” of the preacher to the “you” of her hearers. They are rich both in the unpacking of the doctrines of the incarnation and return of Christ, and practical application of these truths for individuals and congregations.

Reading this left me with fresh wonder that our God would so seek us out in the person of his Son, and left me longing for his return. To live nearly two-thirds of a century is to see a good deal of evil, including that in myself. To see the atrocities people wreak upon each others, the contemptuousness of many in power for the lowly, the desecration of a beautiful world, all leave me longing for the day when things are set right Rutledge’s sermons do not offer an escape from the harsh realities of life. Rather, the sermons repeatedly reframe these in a larger story–one in which the God who has acted in the cradle and the cross, will act decisively both to wondrously save, and judge, wiping away every tear.

It is this we await in the darkness of Advent, mirroring the darkness of the world. Rutledge helps us see what a wonder the coming of the Dayspring truly is. Her forthright messages evidence one who has reached “the simplicity on the other side of complexity” that will prepare our hearts for Christ. There is yet time to sit down with this work before Christmas begins. I was not sorry and I do not think you will be.

Reading Reflections on this book in previous posts:

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge — One

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge–Two

 

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge — One

Advent

During Lent this year, I read The Crucifixion by Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. It was one of the richest books of theology I’ve read in the past ten years, and so I purchased a copy of AdventThat time has come and I’ve begun reading this book (not quite as long) as I await the celebration of Christ’s coming, and anticipate his return. I thought I’d share reflections as well as a review, partly to let you know as soon as possible about this book so you might be able to join me in reading during this season of Advent. Like The Crucifixion, there is such a rich feast of thought that a single review cannot do it justice!

This book is unlike The Crucifixion in consisting of a compilation of writings and sermons on Advent themes from throughout Rutledge’s ministry, given in or written for a number of different settings. The sermons have been grouped around Pre-Advent Themes, the four Sundays of Advent, concluding with a Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent. The writings and sermons are preceded by an introduction that frames the collection theologically.

This reflection covers the several sections of the book, up through page 158. Several things have been striking so far. One is the focus on the Advent as the season of the second coming. Most of us focus on the anticipation of the birth of the incarnate Lord, celebrating this first coming in all that it means for our redemption. Rutledge observes that the liturgical focus of the readings in all but the last Sunday is on the second coming of Jesus. This is what truly makes it a season of waiting. She observes:

Because the church in modern times has turned away from the proclamation of the second coming, an intentional effort must be made to reinstate it. Related to the second coming, which Jesus repeatedly says will come by God’s decision at an hour we do not expect, is the Advent emphasis on the agency of God, as contrasted with the “works” of human beings.

In another sermon she describes the tension of a passage in 2 Peter of “waiting and hastening the coming of the day of the Lord” and describes hastening as “action in waiting.” Yes, we act in the hope and anticipation of that day, but always from a posture of waiting, knowing that the Lord will return in his time on his terms.

Advent is not all sweetness and light for Rutledge. It is light into the darkness, the revealing of the line of good and evil that runs through each of us and the resistance against the Evil One, a reminder of the battleground we inhabit between the first and second Advents of Jesus.

In another sermon, Rutledge reminds us of King Hussein of Jordan, who shortly before his death, visited families of Israelis killed in an Arab terrorist bombing, simply sitting with the bereaved. Then she turns to the late Princess Diana visiting an Angolan hospital ward filled with disfigured and suffering patients coming alongside and caressing patients. Rutledge observes in each, “majesty stooped,” and that this is what we remember in Advent. The focus on the second Advent with Christ’s kingly return stands in contrast with the incarnate, helpless and vulnerable babe, who grew lived, and died for our redemption. In Christ, majesty stooped, and it truly is a wonder to behold as it was with King Hussein and Princess Diana.

This is but a taste of the rich material in the opening pages of this book. I would mention that my favorite bookseller, Hearts and Minds currently offers this and a number of other Advent books at a 20% discount. Wherever you buy or borrow this book, I hope you will have the chance to spend time in it, whether this Advent or in a future year.

 

Review: Divine Impassibility

Divine Impassibility

Divine Impassibility (Spectrum Multiview Books), Edited by Robert J. Matz and A. Chadwick Thornhill. Contributions by Daniel Castelo, James E. Dolezal, Thomas Jay Oord, and John C. Peckham. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A discussion of God’s experience of emotions and the possibility of God suffering with views ranging from one of God not changing or experiencing emotion to God, while not changing in nature, is in relation with his creatures and experiences emotions and suffering in those relationships.

Doesn’t God hear our cries and feel the pain his people suffer? Many of us would say, “of course,” not realizing that many throughout church history may have differed with us. The assertion is that God is impassible, which means that God is not able to suffer or experience pain or pleasure from the acts of others. One may wonder, “why would anyone believe that?” There are actually good reasons. If we believe that God is self-existent, and not dependent upon anything else in the universe for God’s existence, then the possibility that the acts or suffering of others could affect God would seem to jeopardize the idea of God’s self-existence in recognizing the possibility that other beings may influence or change God in some way.

In this work, a spectrum of four views are considered: strong impassibility (James E Dolezal), qualified impassibility (Daniel Castelo), qualified passibility (John C. Peckham), and strong passibility (Thomas Jay Oord). Each proponent sets forth the basic ideas of their particular view and arguments that support, the other three respond from their perspective, and the proponent makes a final response.

One of the most helpful aspects of this book are the four questions the editors ask each person to respond to. These are:

  1. To what extent is God’s emotional life analogous (similar and dissimilar) to the human emotional life?
  2. Are God’s nature, will, and knowledge passible, and to what extent?
  3. Do the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ necessitate passibility?
  4. Does human activity (such as prayer) occasion an emotive/volitional response from God?

The introduction to the book provides a chart with summary answers to each question, showing in brief the places where the four views agree and differ. Basically, the strong impassible position would answer all of these “no,” while the strong passible position would answer all of these yes.

The qualified positions would answer “no” in some cases, a qualified “yes” or “yes” in others, and hence “qualified.” One thing that separates the qualified impassible from the qualified passible is the question of “are God’s nature, will, and knowledge passible, and to what extent. The qualified impassible would say only God’s nature is passible, and that only to the extent God allows. The qualified passible would say both God’s nature and will are passible, but not God’s knowledge–that God is voluntarily passible in relation to the world. They also differ on whether and to what extent the human and divine natures of Christ are passible. The qualified impassible would say this is so only temporarily during the incarnation in the context of an impassible God. The qualified passible would say the incarnation reveals both a passible Christ in both natures and a passible God. They would also differ as to whether God is affected by prayer, no, for the qualified impassible along with the strong impassible, yes for the qualified passible along with the strong passible.

It is thus harder to distinguish the qualified positions from each other, while the differences between the “strong” positions are clear. The strong impassible position seems most shaped by extra-biblical theological categories–God’s self-existence and actuality, and the logic of these means a refusal to take passages that speak of God’s emotions, or God “changing” in response to human acts or pleas at face value. For others, definitional issues and how language is used seems important, and I found myself wondering how this might be worked out if not framed in an impassibility/passibility binary, or dividing God into nature, will, and knowledge as if these are not part of an integral whole.

It does helpfully press the ways in which Creator and creatures are like and unlike. It seems critically important to ask how we are like and unlike God rather than the reverse, which we often do. But this begs the question of both relational and emotional capacities. If our capacities in this regard reflect (albeit in fallen ways) what it is like to be in the image of God, they must find their source in something in the nature of God. How then does a strongly impassible God create passible creatures?

This work is valuable in thinking through our thoughts of God and his relation to his world beyond our sentiments. The thoughtful and yet respectful responses of the participants model good dialogue practices one wishes were more widely evident among Christians who differ. They also respect each other’s commitment to orthodoxy and a high view of scripture. For both the content and the character of the discussion, this book is worth a read.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the Spirit

Make Way for the SpiritChristoph Friedrich Blumhardt (edited by Wolfgang J. Bittner, translated by Ruth Rhenius, Simeon Zahl, Miriam Mathis, and Christian T. Collins Winn. Walden, NY: Plough Publishing, 2019.

Summary: A reflection on the ministry of Johann Christoph Blumhardt by his son, identifying both the continuity, and divergence of their convictions.

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt had to fill large shoes. His father Johann Christoph Blumhardt had been at the center of a great awakening around the village of Mottlingen, and a later ministry at Bad Boll, that Christoph took over at his father’s death. It began with the deliverance of a young woman from demonic powers and resulted in the repentance of many villagers, especially from occult practices as well as other sins, and the introduction by Johann of granting absolution, which had a profound effect. Johann weathered critical scrutiny and criticism by church authorities, walking a delicate boundary of exercising a Spirit-directed and empowered ministry while submitting to church strictures. Another Plough publication, The Awakening (reviewed here), describes that ministry, with its rallying cry, “Jesus is victor!” in much greater detail.

One of the underlying ideas of this book is the forward moving work of the Spirit of God throughout history. The problem, as Blumhardt, the son, sees it, is that people often do not won’t to go on with the Spirit. Instead of an empowered, apostolic church defeating the powers of darkness, the church substituted structures and creeds and institutional power while remaining Christian in name.

What happened at Mottlingen illustrated both. There was a resolute struggle against the dark powers, and real breakthroughs in the advance of the kingdom in the lives of the people of Mottlingen. Yet according to Johann Blumhardt, ultimately people sought spiritual and physical healing apart from completely giving themselves to the cause of God. They sought their own comfort rather than the kingdom and righteousness of God,

While Johann admires much in his father’s life, particularly his steadfast obedience to the Lord’s leading, he faults him for being too eager to please both the people who came to him, and the church authorities, when for the sake of the ministry of the Spirit, they should have been resisted. He also describes three hopes his father entertained, that he affirms, and three false staffs that led to the disappointment of those hopes in his father’s time:

  1. The hope of a new and continuing outpouring of the Spirit. The false staff was the visible church, whose structures were not able to receive the outpoured Spirit.
  2. The hope for God’s Zion, a “city” to which the nations would stream. The false staff was mission that spread the gospel without building up Zion.
  3. The hope for the defeat of death on earth and the false staff was personal salvation and a hope of heavenly bliss that saw death as a pathway rather than the last enemy.

This last was something I had serious questions about, even though I appreciated the emphasis on a ministry of life focused on bodily resurrection. He rightly points to ways we too easily give way to death in both our physical and mental dispositions. And certainly in our own day, we witness a culture of death about which many Christians are relatively complacent. But if I’m reading Blumhardt right, it seems he believed the defeat of death on earth, without mention of the return of Christ and the resurrection, a real possibility, albeit one thwarted by wrong belief. Blumhardt’s references are somewhat allusive, and this was one point where I wish I could have asked him to tell me more, because it seems what he proposes is unorthodox at this point.

Some of the most challenging parts of this book have to do with the issue of progressing so far and then stopping, settling rather than continuing to make way for the Spirit. Connected to this is an embrace of comfort rather than a passion for the rule of God being extended, what he refers to as Zion. There is also some insightful observations about the link between physical and spiritual healing and how this should be approached in pastoral care.

What Blumhart does in his reflection on his father’s ministry, and the Spirit’s bidding for his own work, is explore the question of why awakening or revival does not continue to flourish and grow. He explores both the inner and outer dynamics that have an impact. The editing and compiling of Blumhardt’s papers into this volume (one of the reasons it may seem repetitive at points) is a gift to those who both study and seek revival. Along with scholars from Jonathan Edwards to Richard Lovelace, this study offers rich resources for those who seek to prepare both themselves and the people of God for such awakening work.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Into His Presence

into his presence

Into His PresenceTim L. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2019.

Summary: Offers a biblical study of the idea of intimacy with God, and engages with Catholic mystical, Pentecostal experiential, and Evangelical devotional approaches to intimacy with God.

Tim L. Anderson contends that scripture assures us that God both longs to draw near to us and for us to draw near to Him. He writes this book to uncover the wealth of material in scripture that both assures us of this truth and explains how this can be a reality in the life of the believer. He writes that he is also seeking “an intervention of sorts.” He believes there are three approaches to intimacy with God that suffer from theological imprecision and thus will fail to lead believers into the fullness of intimacy with God that is promised the believer. He describers these approaches as Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional.

He begins with defining intimacy, which he proposes is “the movement of God and Christians toward a place of true knowledge and close contact.” He believes this consists in four elements: movement toward intimacy, intimate knowledge, intimate place/location, and intimate contact/touch, elaborating each of these from scripture. Chapter 2 looks at the place of intimacy with God in theology and philosophy, beginning with the God who is source of our existence, consciousness, and delights, thus making knowledge of God both our gift and our responsibility, pursued through God’s self-revelation in scripture, showing us a God both immanent and transcendent, all-present and knowing, and yet condescending to us.

Chapter 3 considers the fall and the barriers to intimacy this raises. Chapter 4, then, explores the beautiful symbols of scripture that convey God’s communication of intimacy, especially the anthropomorphisms of face, ears, hands, voice and mouth, and how we are to understand these.

Chapter 5 then elaborates the particular image of God as Father and how a proper understanding of God as an intimate. loving Father heals unhealthy shame that hinders our approach to God. Chapter 6 looks at Christ through the lens of the marriage images in scripture. Here he focuses on the intimate care and faithfulness of Christ and the church, but sets bounds on some of the highly romanticized or even sexualized applications of this imagery. Chapter 7 turns to the Holy Spirit and how he discloses truth in illuminating scripture and intercedes for us in prayer.

Chapter 8 deals with suffering and the apparent hiddenness of God in times of suffering. He shows from scripture how God knows us in our suffering and provides in himself a place of security as we suffer. He underscores this with the stories of the suffering of Moses and Elijah, and ultimately of Christ.

Finally, chapter 9 applies all this material on intimacy to assessing our songs of intimacy, our worship music, past and present, particularly for how the four elements of intimacy are present in them. I loved his treatment of “Just as I Am,” a song deeply etched in my own life from Billy Graham Crusades and other contexts.

I greatly appreciated the emphasis of setting forth the rich biblical testimony for intimacy that grounds intimacy in the promises, works, and commands of God and not in our experience. His critique of the “Jesus is my boyfriend or lover” kind of spirituality is a much needed corrective. I felt that the approaches of Catholic Mystical, Pentecostal Experiential, and Evangelical Devotional were treated somewhat as straw men against which he took a few whacks while focusing more on elaborating a biblical theology of intimacy, and critiquing some examples of unhelpful teaching. I thought the book might have been stronger had he left the straw men out while focusing on his primary aim of a theology of intimacy, while offering helpful correctives to specific examples of inadequate or even false teaching, which I felt did not represent the best of the three approaches.

Because of the lack of good biblical/theological instruction in many of our Christian communities, many believers do not know what is theirs in Christ. As human beings, we long for intimacy. Anderson’s work assures us that God’s longing for intimacy with us more than matches our longing for Him, and in Christ the bridegroom, and the Spirit who discloses his bidding and intercedes for us, He has made that intimacy possible.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Placemaking and the Arts

placemaking

Placemaking and the Arts, Jennifer Allen Craft. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.

Summary: Considers the “place” of the arts in placemaking, particularly in the settings of the home, the church, and the wider society.

Urbanists like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte have pioneered a movement known as “placemaking,” the gist of which is the planning and design of urban spaces that promote the health and well-being of those who live in them. This movement has also included writers of “place” like Wendell Berry who urge loving attention to local places, their people, and their ecology.

In this work, Jennifer Allen Craft explores the role of the arts, particularly the visual arts, in placemaking, and how for the Christian in the arts, artists may both seek the flourishing of their places, and anticipate the coming of the new creation, the kingdom of God.

Her first chapter explores the “placed” character of art. Every artist works in a place. Art is an embodied practice that can only occur in a place and in various ways interacts with that place. Through all this runs a theology of creation, incarnation, and resurrection hope for the new creation. One’s art is integrally connected to one’s relationship with God, other people and creatures, and the place in which we work.

The next four chapters explore how this works out in different settings: the natural world, the home, the church, and in society. In the natural world, art enables us to understand, love and, in the words of Wendell Berry, “practice resurrection” in the creation. Art in the home is a “homemaking” practice that creates beautiful spaces that also may become hospitable places for those experiencing dis-placement. Art in the church creates a welcome “place” for community, for encountering God, and for “embodying” the spiritual in a local place, as does liturgy and the Eucharist. The arts also have an important role in the pursuit of human flourishing in society, in creating “place” for the displaced, and bringing artistic considerations to the design of places.

Her final chapter is an attempt to articulate a placed theology of the arts. This commences with six key dialectic features of art: physicality/spirituality; particularity/universality; individuality/community; given/made; beauty/usefulness; contemplation/action. It seems that part of the theological ground of this dialectic approach is the sense of already/not yet of the kingdom and the dialectic of reflection and action in spiritual practices of faith.

The author seems to primarily be writing for an academic audience at the intersection of theological studies, sociology, and art theory, an important group to engage. I found myself wondering how accessible this would be to most of the practicing artists I know, many who might be appreciative. Many are believing people but unaccustomed to reading academic prose and would struggle to read a book like this, or they would just put it down and paint.

At the same time, as an individual who participates in a local arts group and a local choral organization, this resonated deeply with me. Joining a group of plein air painters in various locations in our “place” helps me see and cherish that place more deeply–the particular light of our summer skies, the gently rolling landscape, the river valleys, the species of trees and the shades of green of each. Whether it is a local park or town square, these become intimately a part of the place where we live as we seek to render them on canvas. To study and rehearse great works of music, and then to perform them in an assembled community in our place brings these works to a particular life that enhances life. The works we and others have painted that adorn our home make it a distinctive and welcome place. Singing four-part acapella harmonies with a few friends in my church embodies community and invites worship in our local place.

What this work offers is a theological framework for thinking about both the embodied practice of making art in local places, and how faithful engagement in the arts may be a part of our kingdom callings. I hope she will think about how to articulate these ideas to a wider art and craftwork community, many whose work is indeed grounded in place, and could use the encouragement and affirmation of their work present in this book.

Guest Review: Finding Ourselves After Darwin

Findng Ourselves After Darwin

Finding Ourselves After DarwinStanley P. Rosenberg ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018.

Summary: This book presents and discusses multiple approaches to thinking about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of biological evolution.

This collection of essays is one result of a research project at Oxford University which “assembled scholarship presenting different approaches and methods and insights, introducing a variety of models that may be considered . . .” (p. 8). The individual authors are primarily theologians and biblical scholars, some with a science background.

As the title implies, biological evolution is presupposed, and the issue is how to think about the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in the light of biological evolution. The book is divided into three parts, one for each topic. Each part includes a brief introduction, a discussion of the questions, challenges, and concerns for the topic, several essays offering different approaches, and a conclusion and further reading list.

Part 1 deals with why the image of God is important in the theology-evolutionary science dialogue. It begins with a discussion of what constitutes human distinctiveness. After four essays offering different views of the image of God in the light of recent developments in evolutionary science, Michael Burdett concludes by suggesting that “it is entirely possible that each of these models could be combined in interesting ways such that hybrid models could be constructed that rely on aspects from each one outlined here.” (p. 109)

Part 2 deals with original sin. The opening essay by Gijsbert van den Brink suggests that biological evolution does not require a radical abandonment of the doctrine of original sin, but rather a recontextualization within an evolutionary framework. After essays on Augustinian, Irenaean, federal headship, and cultural approaches, Christopher M. Hays presents a compelling account of the ways in which evolutionary theory aids our understanding of the universality of sin without appealing to an Adamic fall. In his conclusion, Benno van den Toren suggests that “Insights from different theories might well be combined for a new theological synthesis to arise out of this fermentation process. (p. 206)

Part 3 deals with the problem of evil by presenting a variety of approaches. Essayists discuss Augustinian, Irenaeasn, fall-of-the-angels, free process, only way, and non-identity theodicy and how they relate to evolution. The concluding essay by Michael Lloyd suggests that, despite their differences, the contributors to this part seem to believe the following: (1) the current state of evolutionary biology and modern genetics leaves plenty of room in which to do theodicy, (2) the seriousness of the problem of evil in relation to the evolutionary processes, (3) this volume falls far short of a full theodical narrative, and (4) their positions still have challenges to face and work to do.

The three Further Reading lists, the 26-page Bibliography, and the numerous informative footnotes provide a wealth of opportunities to pursue specific topics of personal interest.

It would help to have some familiarity with the issues before tackling this book, but it does succeed in bringing together multiple approaches to dealing with the image of God, original sin, and the problem of evil in light of evolution. I can recommend it to anyone interested in this topic. Three other helpful essay collections on the same topic are “Perspectives on an Evolving Creation”, “Theology After Darwin,” and “Darwin, Creation and the Fall.”

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This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.

Review: Balm in Gilead

balm in gilead

Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, edited by Timothy Larsen and Keith L. Johnson. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A collection of presentations from the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, discussing the work, and particularly the fiction, of Marilynne Robinson with contributions from Robinson.

It is not unusual at an academic conference to discuss the work of a particular author. What is perhaps more remarkable is to discuss the work of a living author with the author present and contributing. The subtitle of this work calls this “a theological dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, and this is true in two senses. The various essays do engage the theology, particularly the Calvinism of Robinson’s work. But the conference also engaged Robinson, with a presentation by her (“The Protestant Conscience”) and a conversation between her and Rowan Williams, and an interview with Wheaton College President Philip Ryken.

Most of the essays focus on some aspect of the theology found in Robinson’s work. Timothy Larsen considers the main character of her fiction, Reverend John Ames, his heritage as the grandson of a staunch abolitionist in the mold of Wheaton’s Jonathan Blanchard, his reaction against that as a pacifist, and the mindset of the 1950’s Christian Century which he and fellow minister Boughton regularly discussed. Han-luen Kantzer Komline explores Ames “heart condition,” both physical and spiritual, and his struggle to forgive and extend grace to Jack Boughton, the wayward child of his friend. Timothy George explores the unusual, for an academic and a writer, embrace of Calvinism by Robinson, with its doctrine of predestination, emphasizing grace and undercutting human presumption. George notes the central focus of Robinson on Christ and so does Keith L. Johnson in a discussion of Robinson’s metaphysics. Here he teases out Robinson’s understanding of the significance of the cross as the demonstration of the love of God for us rather than on its sacrificial character, a focus Robinson engages and differs with.

Lauren Winner focuses on the preaching of John Ames–the 67,500 pages and 2,250 sermons in the course of his pastorate in Gilead and his conclusion that “they mattered or they didn’t and that’s the end of it.” One of the most intriguing essays for me was that of Patricia Andujo on the African American experience in Robinson’s works. She explores how these works reflect the attitudes of mainline white churches in the 1950’s, a kind of passivity in the face of racism, even while raising the uncomfortable issue of Jack Boughton’s inter-racial marriage, and the lack of response when the town’s black church burns down and the congregation leaves.

Tiffany Eberle Kriner’s essay on “Space/Time/Doctrine” raises the intriguing idea of the influence of Robinson’s understanding of predestination, and the shifts backwards and forwards in time in her novels. Joel Sheesley, a midwestern artist, focuses on the landscape of Robinson’s novels. In the penultimate essay Rowan Williams explores the theme of the grace that is beyond human goodness. He writes:

“Grace, not goodness, is the key to our healing. To say that is to say that we’re healed in relation not only to God but to one another. Without that dimension, we’re back with toxic goodness again, the goodness that forgets and excludes. Lila’s problem in the novel is that the instinctive warmth, the human friendliness, the humanly constructed fellowship that characterizes Gilead cannot allow itself to be wounded and broken open in such a way that the stranger is welcome, whether that stranger is the racial other, or simply the socially marginal and damaged person like Lila herself. But to be wounded in our goodness, to learn to have that dimension of our self-image and self-presentation cracked open, is the beginning of where grace can act in us” (pp. 163-164).

The final essay is Robinson’s on “The Protestant Conscience,” in which she defends not only the freedom of conscience of religious believers but argues that the Protestant idea of conscience defended the freedom of all rather than enforcing a Christian conscience upon all through means of the state. This presentation is followed by conversations with Rowan Williams, and an interview with Philip Ryken. In this collection, I found these diverting, but not nearly as substantive and satisfying as the various essays. Perhaps a highlight was the difference between Robinson and Williams on the literary merits of Flannery O’Connor, of whom Robinson is no fan.

This is a great volume for any who, like me, love the work of Marilynne Robinson. It helped make greater sense of some of the themes I’ve seen in her work, particularly her Calvinism. It served to invite me to a re-reading of her work in its exploration of themes of place, race, and grace. Robinson’s presence by no means muted the critique of her work, and yet I saw no defensiveness in her comments, which bespeaks the evidence of grace in her life. All in all, this is well worth acquiring if you have followed Robinson’s work. For those who have not, read the novels first, and then you will appreciate this volume!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Guest Review: Enriching our Vision of Reality

Enriching Our Vision

Enriching our Vision of RealityAlister McGrath. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2017

Summary: The natural sciences and Christian theology can enrich each other’s understanding of reality and help us better understand this strange world in which we find ourselves.

The fundamental theme of Alister McGrath’s book is that “the natural sciences and Christian theology can enrich each other’s understanding of reality and help us better understand this strange world in which we find ourselves.” (p. 77)

His intended audience is “scientists with an interest in theology and theologians aware of the importance of the natural sciences” (p. viii), of which I happen to be neither.

McGrath suggests that “insisting that we use only scientific methods, forms and categories confines us to a narrow world that excludes meaning and value, not because these are absent but because this research method prevents them being seen.” (p. 16)

McGrath discusses the shortcomings of Ian Barbour’s four general approaches (conflict, independence, dialogue and integration) to the relation of science and religion, then goes on to favorably describe John Polkinghorne’s four approaches (deistic, theistic, revisionary, and developmental). The developmental approach is described as a continuously unfolding exploration wherein Christian doctrine is revised in the light of new insights.

He points out the numerous ways in which scientific and theological thinking are similar, particularly regarding Darwin’s theory and Christian theology, in that “both scientific and religious theories find themselves confronted with mysteries, puzzles and anomalies that may give rise to intellectual or existential tensions but do not require their abandonment. . . . In each case, there is a common structure of an explanation with anomalies, which are not regarded as endangering the theory by its proponents but are seen as puzzles that will be resolved at a later stage.” (pp. 147-8)

And it wouldn’t be an Alister McGrath book without a discussion of natural theology, which he describes as “an attempt to demonstrate the existence or character of God by an appeal to the order or beauty of the natural world, without presupposing or relying on any religious assumptions or beliefs.” (p. 165) McGrath suggests that “Christianity offers a framework that makes sense of what is otherwise a happy cosmic coincidence.” (p. 11)

In summary, McGrath provides an exploration of the relation of the natural sciences and theology and how they can complement each other. Along the way, McGrath responds to the views of some of the New Atheists, particularly Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

The book includes a two-page “For Further Reading” but no Index. The only fault I can find with this book is that the publisher chose to go with end notes (28 pages of them) instead of footnotes, thus requiring constant page-flipping.

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This guest review was contributed by Paul Bruggink, a retired technical specialist whose review interest is in the area of science and faith.